Winning ways in business

Johnson is the $100 million man with a plan

Even as a kid, Earvin “Magic” Johnson stayed up late. But it wasn’t hoop dreams or talkshow fever that kept him awake at night — it was business.

Before he took Michigan State to its first Big 10 title in 25 years, before the Lakers “three-peat,” HIV, retirement from the NBA or “The Magic Hour,” Johnson wanted to be a businessman. “When I was growing up, I always had a job, and I would often dream about the day I would have my own business,” he says. “My dad had two jobs. Now it’s all I do — work.”

But don’t fret the hectic pace. It makes the man smile. “He’s a 6-foot-8-inch Energizer bunny,” observes close friend Arsenio Hall. “Erv is happy when he’s busy, and he is a very hard worker. In business, he’s also the master point guard. He assembles a great team around him, delegates what he can’t do and gets the job done.”

The strategy works. Last year Forbes magazine estimated Johnson’s net worth at $100 million. Impressive, but little-league compared to what he will be worth if his eponymous empire explodes.

Magic Johnson Enterprises is comprised of five corporations, three additional business ventures and one nonprofit organization. That’s eight good reasons to anticipate a boom.

Already cause for celebration are the Magic Johnson Theaters. After the stellar performance of the first venue, a cineplex in Baldwin Hills, Johnson and his partners reaffirmed their commitment to “socially responsible real estate investment” by developing theaters across the country, each in an underserved area.

Today he has multiplexes in New York, Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New Orleans.

Starbucks and T.G.I. Friday’s franchises also have proven winners for Johnson. Like the theaters, each is located in an underserved area. “We have been looking for a way to bring the Starbucks experience to (underserved) areas for some time,” says Howard Schults, Starbucks chairman-CEO. “When we met Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, we knew that we had the right partner to accelerate our entry into these communities.”

Johnson’s nationwide goal is to open five T.G.I. Fridays next year and at least 12 Starbucks by 2000.

The Johnson Development Corp. also owns a shopping center in Las Vegas as well as Ladera Center and Margarita Plaza in Los Angeles. Santa Barbara Plaza, located in the Crenshaw District, is his newest effort, a $100 million deal that will solidify Johnson’s stature as businessman extraordinaire.

But, for Johnson, business is not just about profits. “Believe me, the business world does not care how many baskets I’ve made or how many assists I made. They want to know, can I make them some money,” he says. “On the other hand, I feel very strongly about our social responsibility. Through real estate development, we are able to bring in jobs while providing services to area residents. Those two things translate into an improved quality of life. That I can turn a profit at the same time is why they call it a win-win situation.”

Four of Johnson’s other endeavors are entertainment-based. Announced in October, Magic Johnson Music, a joint venture with MCA Records, is the newest. The other organizations are Magic Johnson Entertainment, formed to develop and produce television, cable and feature films; Magic Johnson Management Group, which oversees the careers of various entertainment and sports personalities; and Magic Johnson Prods., which produces and promotes tours, concerts and boxing events.

Other ventures include Magic Johnson T’s, which holds T-shirt licenses for the NBA, NHL, NFL and NCAA, as well as Magic Johnson All-Star Camps for children and Executive Camp — “NBA training camp” for men and women over 30.

Last April, Johnson pooled resources with Janet Jackson and Jheryl Busby to acquire a majority interest in Founders Bank of South Central and East Los Angeles. Founders is California’s only commercial bank owned and operated by African-Americans.

The Magic Johnson Foundation is not affiliated with the other companies. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the health, educational and social needs of inner-city youth.

“Through my various companies and hard work, I’m helping more people now than I ever did with basketball,” Johnson says. “People thank me all the time for what I’m trying to do for the community. When I get those smiles, then I know I have done something really great.”

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